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How Ford Seeman Went From Wall Street Broker to Social Entrepreneur

CCM Staff December 20, 2019

On a mission to challenge the idea that we can’t do anything to save our planet, Ford Seeman created Forest Founders — a simple, subscription-based platform where users can negate their carbon footprint by planting trees.

But Seeman didn’t always know he wanted to become an environmental leader. In this interview with the dynamic Forest Founders founder, learn how he went from a broker on Wall Street to a social entrepreneur and champion for the environment.

We’re interested in the inspiration behind Forest Founders. What is its birth story?

Ford Seeman: Like many good things, Forest Founders was born from adversity. In 2010, my mom was killed by a drunken driver. In the years that followed, I felt directionless. I wandered from job to job — from a broker on Wall Street to a general manager at a Japanese restaurant — followed by a nagging feeling that I was helping to create waste rather than anything of value.

Everything changed when my daughter, Heleena, was born. Determined to leave behind a legacy I was proud of for her, I decided to start my own company — one that created something of value rather than waste.

With the goal of empowering individuals and businesses to negate their carbon footprint, I started Forest Founders: a subscription service designed to connect users with an engaging, actionable way to plant trees.

What are your values at Forest Founders?

FS: First and foremost, we value carbon accountability — or the sense of responsibility and empowerment that comes with climate change. Experts estimate we can reverse climate change by planting one trillion trees — at Forest Founders, we’re creating tools that allow capitalism and nature to work together to accomplish this.

Inspiration and engagement are also among our core values at Forest Founders. The platform is designed to keep users engaged and inspire positive changes without demanding that they drastically change their behaviors.

Finally, one of the key differentiators behind Forest Founder’s is our leveraging the concept of value proposition. By enticing users to invest money in planting trees through the promise of reward points to be delivered, we are essentially trying to gamify environmentalism.

What does “conscious leadership” mean to you? Do you have any best practices to help yourself become and embody conscious leadership?

FS: To me, a big part of being a conscious leader means letting go of your ego and listening to your marketplace, consumers and staff. To be a strong, conscious leader, you need to surround yourself with people who will help you understand what needs to get done, even when you don’t know the answers. For example, we’re on the fifth version of our website and it only gotten better when I stepped back and let my talented developers do their thing. 

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

FS: Right now, I’m focused on perpetuating my mother’s legacy and being able to pass down those values to my daughter. My parents made sure that I experienced and appreciated nature, and I want to be sure my daughter will one day have the ability to do the same with her children.

Building Forest Founders demanded long hours, a significant financial investment and huge personal sacrifice, but after years of drifting, it’s a cause that makes me jump out of bed every morning. 

What is the largest challenge that you’re facing right now?

FS: That’s a tricky question. Challenges are really learning opportunities in disguise, so for me, the biggest challenge is transforming hardships into self-improvement opportunities.

As an entrepreneur, it was difficult for me to transition from a for-profit model to a nonprofit model. Having a stronger program required that I step back and rely on the donations of corporations — to become a glorified beggar, if you will. I had to check my ego and ask for help to grow Forest Founders into a more effective and impactful company.

What is giving you hope for the future? 

FS: The recent surge of interest in planting trees gives me hope, but the problem we are trying to address, to plant the scale of trees required to have an actual impact, is astronomical. If we continue to insist on keeping things business as usual, we’re doomed.

Instead, we need to design new methodologies. We will need to dramatically change how we generate electricity. At the same time, we effectively have to undo thousands of years of damage left behind by generations before us.

That’s why we need programs like ours. With Forest Founders, I hope that we can build tools needed to allow humans and businesses to work together to reverse the climate crisis. 

Top 3 lessons for social entrepreneurs? 

FS: Above all else, be mission driven. To accomplish your mission, you should start with a clear process in mind, but be willing to accept that things may not go the way you plan.

Next, be passionate. The road to starting a nonprofit is long and rocky. Getting there requires an incredible, genuine passion for what you’re doing.

Finally, you have to choose success: it won’t choose you. You need to have conviction in your company because no one can lead with the same tenacity as a founder can.

Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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